The Baltimore Sun

Jim Warlick has been in business through eight inaugurations in 28 years, but he has never seen a frenzy like the one surrounding President-elect Barack Obama.

The owner of Political Americana, a souvenir retailer with a store blocks from the White House, said sales have never been better.

His five locations have bustled for weeks, with people buying T-shirts, bobbleheads, buttons, paper dolls or other Obama memorabilia. Customers snap pictures in an Oval Office setting at the store, sitting behind a replica of a desk used by various presidents since 1880. Fake windows show cherry blossoms and the Washington Monument in the background. A life-size cutout of Obama stands to the side.

Warlick expects visitors to jam his stores even more during the coming days as 4 million people are predicted to arrive for Obama?s swearing-in Tuesday. Warlick said his biggest worry is running out of merchandise. "I've never seen a person's image sell so well," said Warlick, who opened three new stores just for the inauguration. "This is the biggest year I've ever had, and it?s all because of Obama."

Bucking the economy.

As the weak economy has made it tough for businesses in just about every industry, some are managing to capitalize on Obama's popularity and his historic inauguration.

Restaurants are offering inaugural menu items, and retailers are holding sales. Newspapers are selling special-edition press plates. Museums are stocking presidential books and watches while vendors are filling their carts with all things Obama.

Obama merchandise ranges from the standard political buttons and pens to the more extravagant ? Political Americana is selling $300 bottles of champagne with the date of the inauguration engraved on the bottle. Obama bobbleheads are selling for $29.95, crystal paperweights for $74.95 and Obama action figures for $14.95.

Inaugurations always bring out plenty of creative merchandise. But the interest this time seems to surpass all others, according to consumer experts. "Moment in history."

"This is a moment of history, having the first person of color/biracial president, so we want the T-shirt," said Sara Raley, an assistant professor of sociology at McDaniel College who recently taught a class on consumer behavior. "That's who we are as Americans. It's like it doesn't count if you don't get the T-shirt."

During most of the year, Teresa's Garden Center on New York Avenue is a landscaping and garden business. But during recent months its owners converted the location into a temporary political souvenir store.

They're taking advantage of the company's prime location on a major thoroughfare traveled heavily by drivers headed from Maryland to Washington. "Obama Headquarters" signs hang prominently in front of the business. Plants and potting soil have been replaced with buttons, calendars and T-shirts.

Just wanted to buy something.

Holly Hamilton, visiting Washington from South Dakota, saw the signs recently and stopped to pick up some keepsakes before heading back home. She saw Obama speak during the campaign and is a big fan, even though she hails from a Republican-leaning state.

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